Well Worth The Wait
It’s hard to believe it’s been 26 years since the last proper Streets of Rage game released. Originally intended to compete with Capcom’s hugely-successful Final Fight when it debuted on the Genesis in the summer of 1991, the game was nothing short of lightning in a bottle for SEGA. With its great graphics, snappy and satisfying fighting mechanics, and an unforgettable soundtrack courtesy of legendary video game composer Yuzo Koshiro, it proved to be a massive success for the developer, spawning a trilogy of beloved brawlers on SEGA’s 16-bit console.
Despite a decades-long hiatus, the series remains one of SEGA’s most popular properties for fans who’ve waited patiently for another chance to rid Wood Oak City of its criminal infestation. Thankfully, the long wait is finally over. Paris-based studios Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, and Lizardcube have come together to beat into shape a brawler worthy of fans’ expectations with Streets of Rage 4. But could the game possibly live up to the massive hype?
You bet your phone booth turkey-loving ass it does!
Cleaning Up The Streets
The story of Streets of Rage 4 takes place ten years after the previous game in the series. Mr. X is dead, and his syndicate has been eradicated by ex-cops Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding and their comrades, Eddie “Skate” Hunter and Dr. Gilbert Zan. However, that decade of peace comes to an end when a new criminal empire rises from the organization’s ashes led by Mr. X’s children, the Y Twins, who prove the apple doesn’t fall far from the conveniently placed trashcan.
The first thing fans of the series will notice is just how faithful Streets of Rage 4’s gameplay feels to that of its predecessors despite being from a different team. The controls are as tight and responsive as ever, allowing you to deliver Grand Uppers to the guts of goons with the greatest of ease. Each punch, kick, and bodyslam packs a convincing sense of weight that makes pummeling punks so satisfying. It really does feel like the natural evolution of the series, and anyone who cut their teeth on the Genesis trilogy will feel right at home from the second the action kicks off.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Streets of Rage 4 features a couple of smart updates to the classic formula to keep the bare-knuckle brawls fresh.
For starters, the way special attacks work a bit differently this time around. In previous installments in the series, performing a special attack would cost the player a portion of their health bar (except for when you had a full charge meter in Streets of Rage 3). Streets of Rage 4 changes the formula a bit, allowing you to regain any health lost when performing a special attack by damaging enemies without getting hit. I like this a lot, as it introduces a welcome risk versus reward mechanic to the proceedings. Rather than unleashing my most potent moves whenever I was in a pinch, I found myself paying much closer attention to enemy attack patterns to make the most of my more powerful abilities.
Combos and juggles are also a significant focus of Streets of Rage 4’s gameplay. Combos can result in dozens of hits, and chaining barrages of beatings between baddies will award you with massive score multipliers. You can even launch enemies across the screen and have your co-op partner send them flying back towards you like meaty tennis balls like a vigilante Andre Agassi.
Streets of Rage 4 also introduces the addition of four-player local co-op, allowing you and three friends to squad up and take the fight to the syndicate. Sadly, due to current social distancing rules, I was unable to fully enjoy this feature to its fullest during my review time with the game. However, considering just how well it worked for SebaGamesDev’s super brawler Fight N’ Rage, it’s hard to imagine this mode not being a hit for those who enjoy couch co-op.
Carnage Builds Character
When it comes to playable characters, Streets of Rage 4’s roster is easily the most exciting to date. The original trio of Axel, Blaze, and Adam are once again selectable, and each of them packs a handful of new tricks to make these familiar pugilists feel fresh. Adam, for instance, has a new quickstep to help him close the gap between baddies and dodge attacks, and the Judo master Blaze can now juggle enemies into oblivion with her cartwheeling combos. In addition to these series staples, Streets of Rage 4 also adds a pair of all-new protagonists to the mix.
Cherry Hunter is the rock and roll-loving daughter of Streets of Rage veteran Adam Hunter. Her strikes may not deal a lot of damage, but she’s a lightning-fast rushdown character who can pepper her opponents with rapid-fire blows. And, when all else fails, her trusty electric guitar can emit a sonic blast that puts entire gangs of enemies on their butts to give this feisty firecracker some breathing room between beatdowns.
In stark contrast to Cherry, the massive Maori wrestler Floyd Iraia is a lumbering giant similar to fan-favorite Streets of Rage 2 alumni Max Thunder. While slow as molasses, his power is unrivaled. Unlike other characters, he can carry enemies around and throw them like footballs, grab multiple baddies at once, and even strike at mid-range with his bionic arms that he received courtesy of Dr. Zan.
Streets of Rage 4 features a pretty staggering number of gameplay modes for a beat-’em-up. The game’s Arcade and Story modes are easily the stars of the show. Clocking in at a dozen lengthy levels that should take close to two hours to beat, they allow one to four players (though it’s limited to two-players online) to fight their way through the crime-infested streets of Wood Oak City.
The stages are varied and painstakingly detailed, taking you from the bustling streets of Chinatown to even the skies above the city as you duke it out in a speeding jet. Each location is littered with fanservice as well, like Streets of Rage 2’s bald boxer Rocky Bear’s outfit hanging on a clothesline, to Roo tending bar at a biker watering hole. Hell, you even see the controversial sub-boss Ash from Bare Knuckle III adorning a poster during a boss fight with the dominatrix Nora.
This fight is uniquely entertaining, as she’s flanked by Galsias, who become “Galsiaaaaaaas” when whipped, who gain massive health bars and crazy strength as she works the usually lowly enemies into an excited frenzy. Is it sillier than fans of the series might expect? Sure! But it’s hugely entertaining, and this reviewer enjoyed every second of the insanity.
While the Story and Arcade modes are primarily the same, there’s a fundamental difference here. Story Mode allows you to continue as many times as you want when you die, though this will cause you to start at the beginning of the last stage you were on. Arcade Mode, on the other hand, is a much more hardcore affair. This Mode forces you to make your way through the entire campaign on a single credit, so you’ll need to horde all the points you can if you want to stockpile those lives as you’re going to need them. It’s a delightfully old school marathon that should test the skills of even the most seasoned Streets of Rage veterans.
Old School Cool
In addition to the Story and Arcade modes, Streets of Rage 4 also includes the welcome addition of a Boss Rush. It’s exactly what it sounds like, pitting you against all of the game’s bosses in a battle royale as you work your way through the syndicate ranks. Lose that life, and it’s game over. It’s insanely addicting, and will surely keep fans coming back for more as they try to topple each stage’s head honcho for bragging rights.
Lastly, Streets of Rage 4 also includes an adversarial Battle Mode. First introduced in Streets of Rage 2, this mode allows up to four players to duke it out to see who the real king of the streets is. It’s not the most exciting part of the game’s package by any stretch, but it’s a fun distraction that’s entertaining in short bursts.
As you progress through the Story and Arcade modes, you’ll also earn points which unlock retro versions of each of the game’s legacy characters, along with several playable ones fro previous games in the series including Skate, Max, Dr. Zan, and even Mr. X’s right-hand man, Shiva. It’s all cool stuff indeed.
Raging In Style
Without a doubt, Streets of Rage 4’s newly adopted art style has been a point of contention among fans. At first, I was on the fence about the game’s cartoony renditions of my favorite characters as well. However, having spent the past two weeks soaking up the new visuals, I have to say that I’m a fan. Screenshots just don’t do the game any justice. In motion, Streets of Rage 4’s fluid animations are truly a sight to behold. Likewise, the character sprites and stages all feature a staggering amount of hand-drawn detail that brings them to life.
If you played Lizardcube’s fantastic remake of Wonder Boy III a few years back, then this likely won’t come as a surprise. The studio’s art talent produces some of the most detailed and eye-catching art out there. And without a doubt, Streets of Rage 4’s vibrant, feature-rich visuals are no exception, easily raising the bar for the studio. Seriously, don’t let still shots or online videos dissuade you. Streets of Rage 4 is a game you just have to see in action for yourself.
Ask any fan of the series, and they’ll agree that Streets of Rage’s music is just as crucial as its gameplay. The pulsing, Acid House and Euro Rave tunes that accompanied the brawls of the previous games in the series are some of the most iconic to grace the industry. Streets of Rage 4 spectacularly continues this legacy.
Not only do Streets of Rage veterans Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima return to provide high-energy compositions for the game, but they’re also joined by many star talents including the leading composer Olivier Derivière, who composed the soundtracks for A Plague Tale: Innocence, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and Dying Light 2, as well as such notable industry veterans as Street Fighter II composer Yoko Shimomura, and Ninja Gaiden composer Keiji Yamagishi. Hotline Miami and synthwave fans, in general, will also be happy to learn that both Scattle and Das Mörtal have also lent their talents to the project.
Needless to say, Streets of Rage 4’s soundtrack is nothing short of stellar, and arguably one of the best in the series’ history. The tracks range from sinister chiptune compositions to dance floor-murdering synth lines that will keep you bobbing your head as you dole out the damage. And, as you’d expect, many of these compositions feature remixes of classic tunes and obvious tributes to notable tracks from throughout the series, and they are awesome. If you’re a fan of the series’ music, and you damn well should be, then you need this soundtrack in your life.
A Sequel Worth Celebrating
If there’s one complaint I have about Streets of Rage 4, it’s that the online play isn’t the greatest at the moment. During my time with the game, I experienced considerable lag spikes when playing online with Casey over at GamersHeroes. It remains to be seen if this issue will plague the console versions of the game, but for now the PC version’s online could definitely use a little bit of fine-tuning to keep the action flowing smoothly.
Online woes aside, Streets of Rage 4 is the gold standard for what a beat ’em up should be and a triumphant return to form for the series. The road to its release has been long and at times uncertain, but Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, and Lizardcube have managed to deliver a game that was well worth the 26-year wait. With stellar visuals, an unforgettable soundtrack, and a wealth of modes to enjoy, this is one game you need to have in your collection.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Dotemu; Developer: Dotemu, Guard Crush Games, Lizardcube; Release Date: April 30, 2020; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.